Pain can be classified in different ways, most common classifications are

  1. Based on the pathophysiological mechanism (nociceptive or neuropathic pain)
  2. Based on the duration (acute, chronic or sub-classifications)
  3. Based on etiology (malignant or non-malignant)
  4. Based on the anatomic location of pain

1.Based on pathophysiological mechanism:

Nociceptive pain: This kind of pain develops due to tissue injury that stimulates pain receptors called nociceptors

Neuropathic pain: Caused by injury to nerve cells in the our nervous system

2.Based on duration:

(a) Acute pain: Pain of sudden onset, occurs immediately after an injury and is usually severe in nature.

(b) Chronic pain: This is a pain that continues beyond the normal healing process. It can start as an acute pain but lasts for more than 3 months.

(c) Episodic or recurrent pain: Occurs intermittently over a long period of time and the patient can be pain free in-between episodes (e.g. sickle cell disease).

(d) Breakthrough pain: It is an exacerbation of pain (e.g. acute on top of chronic pain or variations in the level of severity of chronic pain).

(e) End of dose pain: Pain that occurs when medication levels fall in blood to sub-therapeutic levels.

3.Based on etiology:

(a) Malignant pain: Pain associated with cancer. Pain can be caused by the malignancy itself or related treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery).

(b) Non-malignant pain: simply refer to pain not associated with malignancy.

4.The anatomic location:

Pain classified by location (e.g. head, neck or back pain)


Abd-Elsayed A., Deer T.R. (2019) Different Types of Pain. In: Abd-Elsayed A. (eds) Pain. Springer, Cham.